Compare and Contrast the 3 Main Resume Formats - dummies

Compare and Contrast the 3 Main Resume Formats

By Laura DeCarlo

How much are you worth to employers? Your resume inspires an employer’s first best guess, so you want to ensure that it’s a compelling portrait of how your strengths and skills benefit the enterprise that you’re hoping will write your next paycheck.

One key element that comes into play is how you present information in your resume. You don’t have to limit yourself to presenting your experience using the traditional reverse-chronological resume. In fact, unless you’ve had a traditional career history of rising through the ranks, this standard resume could hurt your chances of getting an interview.

Formats for resumes make a difference

Resume format refers not to the design or look of your resume but to how you organize and emphasize your information. Different format styles flatter different histories.

At root, formats come in three styles:

  • The reverse-chronological format (or traditional format), which lists employment beginning with the most recent and working backward
  • The chrono-functional format, which most frequently emphasizes skills and accomplishments first and chronology timeline second
  • The hybrid format, which lets you customize how you emphasize both the functional skills and the chronology depending on your unique needs

Yes, there is such a thing as a functional resume that focuses primarily on skills and leaves out company names and dates where the work was performed. However, this format presents a big red flag for prospective employers, so don’t be tempted to use it under any circumstances.

This table gives you a breakdown of which of the three formats enhances your personal curb appeal.

Your Best Resume Formats at a Glance

Your Situation Suggested Formats
Perfect career progression Reverse chronological
New graduate Chrono-functional
Seasoned ace Reverse chronological; hybrid when old jobs are most relevant
Military transition Reverse chronological or chrono-functional
Job history gaps Chrono-functional or hybrid
Career change Hybrid; sometimes reverse chronological
Special issues Hybrid or chrono-functional
Multitrack job history Chrono-functional
Demotions Any

The big question to ask yourself when you’re considering different formats is: “Does this format maximize my qualifications for the job I want?” The format you choose should promote your top qualifications, so make sure to select a format that helps you present your top-pick value.

Reverse-chronological resume format

The reverse-chronological (RC) format, shown in the following figure, is straightforward: It cites your employment history from the most recent back, showing dates as well as employers. You accent a steady work history with a clear pattern of upward or lateral mobility.

reverse-chronological resume
The tried-and-true, reverse-chronological format.

The RC format’s strengths and weaknesses

Check to see whether the reverse-chronological resume’s strengths work for you:

  • This upfront format is by far the most popular with employers and recruiters because it puts the emphasis on what you’ve been doing most recently in your career and lets your career progression easily be seen.
  • RC links employment dates, underscoring continuity. The weight of your experience confirms that you’re a specialist in a specific career field.
  • RC positions you for the next upward career step.
  • As the most traditional of formats, RC is a good fit for traditional industries but is the resume of choice for all industries when you can demonstrate solid progression in your career.

Take the weaknesses of the reverse-chronological format into account:

  • When your previous job titles are substantially different from your target position, this format doesn’t support your objective. Without careful management, the RC reveals everything, including inconsequential jobs and negative factors.
  • RC can spotlight periods of unemployment or brief job tenure.
  • Without careful management, RC reveals your age.
  • If you aren’t careful, RC may suggest that you hit a plateau and stayed in a job too long.

Should you use the RC resume format?

Use the reverse-chronological if you fall into any of these categories:

  • You have a steady work record reflecting constant growth or lateral movement.
  • Your most recent employer is a respected name in the industry, and the name may ease your entry into a new position.
  • Your most recent job titles are impressive stepping-stones.
  • You’re a savvy writer who knows how to manage potential negative factors, such as inconsequential jobs, too few jobs, too many temporary jobs, too many years at the same job, or too many years of age.

Think twice about using the RC under these circumstances:

  • You’re a new graduate with limited experience in your target profession.
  • You have work history or employability problems such as gaps, demotions, stagnation in a single position, job hopping (four jobs in three years, for example), or re-entering the workforce after a break to raise a family.
  • You’re trying to change careers.
  • You’re trying to re-enter a profession you worked in many years ago that isn’t showing up front and center with an RC.

How to create a reverse-chronological resume

To create an RC resume, remember to focus on areas of specific relevance to your target position. For your work history section, you typically want to concentrate on your last four jobs or your last 10 to 15 years of employment.

Be sure to include for each the name of the employer and the city in which you worked, the years you were there, your title, your key responsibilities, and your measurable accomplishments.

To handle problems such as unrelated experience or early experience that could date you but is too relevant to leave off, you can group unrelated jobs in a second work history section under a heading of Additional Experience, Previous Experience, or Related Experience.

When it comes to including dates on your resume, you have multiple options:

  • If your jobs were extremely fluid, meaning you left one company and immediately started with the next, you can use months and years. However, if you had gaps of several months between one job stopping and one starting, it is perfectly acceptable to just list the years employed.
  • When you have held multiple progressive positions with an employer, you don’t have to list the employer all over again. Instead, create an umbrella for the positions, listing the employer only once and the total dates, and then show your reverse chronology below. This figure shows how to present multiple progressive positions with the same employer.
progressive positions on resume
Listing multiple progressive positions with one employer.
  • If your positions were similar and varied little, or you had the same job with a different title, it’s okay to group them versus describing them twice. The following figure shows an individual who had progressive positions with the same employer, but some of the jobs were similar enough to group instead of listing redundant information in two places.
Grouping positions on resume
Grouping similar positions held at the same employer.

Chrono-functional resume format

The chrono-functional (CF) format, shown in the following figure, is a resume of ability-focused topics — portable skills or functional areas that position you best for your new job target (or to overcome some challenge in your timeline). It ignores chronological order or even whether a particular skill came from employment. However, the chrono-functional format backs up all listed skills with a chronology that might come from employment, courses or education, volunteer work, and paid or unpaid internships.

Chrono-functional resume
A chrono-functional resume format, which is used to overcome timeline challenges in your work history.

The CF format’s strengths and weaknesses

The following are the strengths of the chrono-functional format:

  • A CF resume directs a reader’s eyes to what you want him or her to notice. It helps a reader visualize what you can do instead of locking you into when and where you learned to do it. CF resumes salute the future rather than embalm the past.
  • The CF format — written after researching the target company — serves up the precise functions or skills that the employer wants. It’s like saying, “You want budget control and turnaround skills —– here’s where I offer budget control and turnaround skills.” The skills sell is a magnet to reader eyes!
  • It uses unpaid and nonwork experience to your best advantage.
  • The CF format allows you to eliminate or subordinate work history that doesn’t support your current objective.

The weaknesses of the chrono-functional format include the following:

  • Recruiters and employers are more accustomed to reverse-chronological formats than other types. Departing from the norm may raise suspicion that you’re not the cream of the crop of applicants. Readers may assume that you’re trying to hide inadequate experience, educational deficits, or who knows what.
  • Functional styles may leave unclear which skills grew from which jobs or experiences.
  • This format doesn’t clearly describe your career progression.

Should you use the CF resume format?

The chrono-functional resume is heaven-sent for career changers, contract workers, new graduates, ex-military personnel, and individuals with multitrack job histories, work history gaps, or special issues.

Job seekers with perfect backgrounds (no gaps, career changes, or the like) and managers and professionals who are often tapped by executive recruiters should avoid this format.

How to create a chrono-functional resume

Choose areas of expertise acquired during the course of your career, including education and unpaid activities. These areas become skill, competency, and functional headings, which vary by the target position or career field. Note accomplishments below each heading. A few examples of headings are: Operations Management, Sales, Budget Control, Cost Cutting, Project Implementation, Growth, and Turnaround Successes.

List the headings in the order of importance and follow each heading with a series of short statements of your skills. Turn your statements into power hitters with measurable achievements. The easiest way to do this is to always write CAR statements — the challenge you faced, actions you took, and results you obtained.

It’s important to note two key elements that allow a chrono-functional resume to work:

  • Your resume has a work history listed either above or below the experience and accomplishments section.
  • Each top skill lists the role in which it was attained.

If you do not make these key connections in your resume, prospective employers will question the validity of your skills and become confused about where or when they were used. By providing this small bit of connective data, you make a chrono-functional a safe choice when navigating career challenges on your resume.

Hybrid resume format

The hybrid resume format may likely be something you haven’t encountered before. While it has been in use by a handful of professional resume writers for over a decade with great success and employer acceptance, it has rarely been shared with job seekers before now.

A hybrid resume format takes elements from different resume types so you can maintain an employment chronology as well as use creative functional characteristics to overcome your career challenge without raising any red flags. This strategy works great if

  • You want to highlight jobs from earlier in your career that might otherwise not be seen.
  • Your most recent job was not as strong or as close a fit to your target.
  • You have a gap in employment.

Essentially, with the hybrid format, you’re addressing employment circumstances in which there are challenges but a full chrono-functional adaptation would be overkill. Such challenges might include

  • You held the target experience or industry experience previously in your career.
  • The position experience or industry experience most relevant to your target is earlier in your career and will be hidden on page 2 of the resume.
  • You were demoted with your current employer and wish to make that less obvious.
  • Your recent employment is lower level, irrelevant, or covering a gap but your prior history is right on target.

The hybrid format’s strengths and weaknesses

Check out some of the strengths of the hybrid format to decide whether it’s for you:

  • It quickly points prospective employers to early experience you have that matches your target, and it makes it seem more relevant.
  • It can cleverly mask a gap in your employment history.
  • It allows you the flexibility to put your best foot forward even if your most recent employment was not in line with your current target.

When crafted correctly for job seekers with these kinds of challenges, there aren’t any weaknesses to using a hybrid format.

Should you use the hybrid resume format?

A hybrid resume helps you position your relevant experience and work history more effectively when you have gaps, demotions, career changes, career back-tracking, or haven’t worked in the target industry for many years.

Although the hybrid resume looks neat and is highly efficient at what it does, those with strong career progressions in their chosen industry should steer clear. You don’t need to get fancy when you’re already on track.

How to create a hybrid resume

Some employment challenges require the lightest of tweaking to make them blend in, and others require more of a major renovation. You can decide on a case-by-case basis how much work your resume needs when you look at the job target and compare it to your work history.

If your career progression is all lined up for the job you want but the industry experience is hiding on page 2, all you need is a light tweak to help draw the eyes of prospective employer to relevant career information. You can stick with your reverse chronology and all the other elements that make an RC successful, but add a little summary line at the top of your professional experience section that connects your prior positions or industries with the target, as shown here.

Light hybrid resume
Use the light hybrid when your reverse-chronology resume is on track but some key relevance is getting hidden in your resume layout.

But what if you’re facing one of those challenges that make it more crucial for you to play up a job from earlier in your career but going to a chrono-functional resume would be overkill? That’s when you go heavy with the hybrid!

You have room to be creative here as long as you adhere to two simple rules:

  • Always include a timeline, either before the professional experience section or after it.
  • List jobs in the order they best serve you, but without the dates (since those appear elsewhere in the chronology). Feel free to leave out descriptions that don’t serve you.

The following figure shows you how you might present the timeline and job list on a resume.

A heavy hybrid resume
The heavy hybrid format comes into play when you have had solid jobs but they just aren’t presenting in the best order to qualify you for the position.

After you decide on which resume format you’re going to use, see “Why Creative Resume Designs Are Game Changers,” for ways to make your resume pop.